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Tamburlain

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9
Go to the Dixit page

Dixit

60 out of 67 gamers thought this was helpful

‘Dixit’ is a game with light rules that nonetheless manages to tap deep aspects of social cognition. If you are a person who revels in acts of interpretation, who enjoys reading people as much as exploring layers of subtext in literature and the visual arts, then chances are you will appreciate the unique invitation that ‘Dixit’ represents. It is an invitation to play with meaning.

Players are dealt hands of cards, with each card bearing a unique complex image. There are two basic roles for players. In the primary role, you will be asked to select a card from your hand (unbeknownst to other players) and use it to create an utterance that “matches” the image. That’s right, any utterance. You can recite the whole Gettysburg Address (in Klingon, if you wish); you can hum a few bars of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’; or you can issue a monosyllabic grunt. But you should know that for whatever utterance you do make, the other players, in keeping with their secondary role, will secretly choose one image from their own hands that they feel best matches your “hint”. Then you will gather the cards bearing their selections, shuffle them, and spread them out onto the table such that your own card is included amongst the many foils.

After scrutinizing the the images, the other players will then simultaneously indicate which on display is the “true” inspiration of your utterance. Scoring is structured so that you are rewarded for offering clever clues–meaning an utterance that is neither too hard nor too easy to interpret. (If either everyone or no one chooses your card, you get bupkis.) In their secondary roles, other players will score points if they correctly interpret your utterance, and/or if they manage to deceive other players into choosing *their* foil.

Similar metacognitive “voting” mechanisms have been used before. But what makes ‘Dixit’ tick–and in an astonishingly novel way–is the artwork on the cards. Simply put, ‘Dixit’ features the most brilliantly evocative art that I’ve encountered in any game, bar none. Marie Cardouat has graced the game with hundreds of little expressionist gems that look as if they were pulled from the pages of a Jungian fairy tale. In terms of style, the illustrations are at times childlike, dreamlike, and often are subtly unsettling. Like imagery on Tarot cards, Cardouat’s compositions beg to be puzzled over. And in this capacity, they preserve the most crucial functionality of the game.

Ultimately, what makes the ‘Dixit’ worth returning to again and again, is its easy enchantment, not only with respect to what is “seen” in the cards, but in the predictions you are asked to make about others’ interpretations, and vice versa. The poetry cuts both ways, as you are both the interpreter and a text that is being interpreted. This also means that the tenor of the game is highly influenced by the personality of the individuals playing it. Depending on the group, your game may be punctuated by introspective “Aha’s” or by raucous laughter. Or both. To me, this is not just the sign of a great party game, but of a great game period.

10
Go to the Brass page

Brass

97 out of 112 gamers thought this was helpful

Martin Wallace’s ‘Brass’ is one of those games that you tend to think about even when not playing. The rulebook is well-written, and its material components are handsomely produced. It’s easy to return to. Which is good, because,as with the best euros, repeated plays of ‘Brass’ reveals deeper and deeper layers of strategic possibility.

Mechanically speaking, it never feels overburdened by chrome or by needless knobs, dials, or other assorted doohickies. And though it doesn’t play fast (clocking in at about 2 hours), ‘Brass’ does offer a very *smooth* ride, especially impressive for a heavy economic game set during England’s industrial revolution.

I love how the game is played out over two historically distinct phases. Overall, it creates a palpable sense of developmental ebb-and-flow in which market timing becomes a premium concern. The other major concern, which of course is signature Wallace, is all about finagling market access by building up clever networks of canals and later railways. Delicious decisions abound, many relating to cash-flow: how many loans will be too many?–And to what extent will you be willing to benefit another player by leveraging a shared network?

‘Brass’ is a wonderfully interactive game. It is also a very good example of a game whose mechanics and structure are expertly integrated with its theme and setting. If you like economic games and clever simulations of history, it will be difficult to find a better game.

10
Go to the Agricola page

Agricola

67 out of 76 gamers thought this was helpful

Agricola has been my group’s go-to civ-game for almost three years. I attribute this popularity to the fact that it is both highly replayable, always providing novel experiences for players, and scales well (particularly in the 2-4 player range). Also worth mentioning for a game that is relatively expensive: its components are top-notch.

The one nit I have to pick with Agricola is its rulebook. It is dense and confusing, and it can make the game difficult to learn.

Thematically speaking, there is no disputing that some gamers will be left cold by Agricola’s obscure whimsical setting of subsistence farming in the late middle ages. Yawn, there are no explosions. There are no zombies. No space-ninjas. Instead of summoning horned rat demons to do your bidding, you will summon carrots. The game offers no grand recapitulation of European colonialism, etc. In Agricola, the goal is quite humbly to improve your lot.

But make no mistake, there are a million interesting decisions to be made in this context, what and when to plant, whether to breed or slaughter. There are seemingly endless paths to victory, but there is also a delicious tension in never knowing how deeply one should commit to any single path. The game forces you to strategize in layers. You will devise plan A, but be prepared to rally behind plan B (or C or D), and all the while work to shunt your fellow players away from their plans, denying them precious resources even as you work to collect your own.

Lastly, it is the sense of accomplishment at the end of a game, looking down at a physical model of your decisions, regardless of the final score, that makes this game uniquely satisfying to me.

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